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Motivating People

Motivation is defined as getting people to do their job willingly and well. It’s not just intuition.
Various surveys have told us that “the people factor” has a vital role to play in organisational

What motivates people? - ideas and theories

Life circumstances and stages

Think about yourself and the members of your current team. Some may have just started out
on their careers, others may be nearing retirement. How will this affect their motivation?

Abraham Maslow was a leading psychologist in the 1950’s. He had an interesting theory
which is still respected today. The theory is based on the idea that we all have a hierarchy of
needs that we wish to satisfy. He suggested that some of our needs are more basic than
others. We must satisfy one group of needs before moving on to satisfying another. For
example, someone who is starving will not be concerned about having a challenging job.
Figure 1 demonstrates the move up the pyramid as basic needs are fulfilled.

1. Physiological needs: These include air, food, water, sleep, sex, rest, shelter and
sanitation. Before these are satisfied, there can be no move to fulfil other needs.
2. Security needs: The second step up the pyramid relies on us feeling happy about
protecting the basic needs established above. These elements encompass both
emotional and economic security.
3. Belongingness needs: Most people prefer to get on with those around them; to
feel part of a group; wanting to be accepted by your peer group. This may
involve adapting to meet that group in terms of values, behaviour and even
4. Esteem needs: These needs include status and recognition, being valued for the
contribution being made to the group. The status is reflected by position in the
company, salary, company car and other perks.
5. Self-actualisation needs: This is a need to feel that you are achieving something,
that you are making a difference. There may be no external physical signs of
fulfilling the need, as it is personal and within. It reflects being aware yourself that
you have done the best you can or perhaps exceeded your previous

Figure 1: Motivation – Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs

Source: Adapted from Abraham Maslow’s Motivation and Personality, HarperCollins, 1970.

Maslow’s hierarchy is based on needs and not wants. It operates on an ascending scale
where a move upwards requires the previous layer to be fulfilled. However, it is possible to
revert back. Take for example a middle-aged manager facing the threat of redundancy. He
may move back to satisfy his security needs before again looking to meet esteem needs.

A successful manager rising up the pyramid who is presented with their first child, may decide
to downsize, recognising needs for belongingness. Another manager in the same situation
may work harder to achieve security needs for their family. When the children grow up, this
manager may pursue self-esteem, looking for new learning and new challenges.

What stages are your team members at? Are some striving to pay their mortgage? Do others
find motivation from working with others and being part of a team, or are they more inspired
with the idea of new learning and challenges? Understanding their needs and their life stages
can help you to understand how to motivate them.
Some organisations have taken the idea of different needs and life stages into account when
designing their pay and benefits packages. Flexible working allows people to accommodate
some of their family and self- actualisation needs. A cafeteria benefits system allows
employees to develop their own packages from a range of options including, holidays, health
insurance, cars and pensions. This gives people the option to choose to maximise their
income by reducing some of the other benefits, thus creating a package which suits their
individuals needs.

Management styles

There is an old saying “Managers get the staff they deserve.” Douglas McGregor writing in his
book The Human Side of Enterprise2 in 1960, suggested that a manager’s job is to steer the
employee towards self-actualisation. Allow people to fulfil themselves and they will do the
rest. Managers need to make sure the structure is there for them and leave them to it. They
will then naturally motivate themselves. Everyone wants to do well. It is the attitude of the
manager which will influence the effort they put in.

McGregor described two extremes. Theory X revolves around treating labour as a business
expense to be bought cheaply and worked like a piece of wood on a lathe. Theory Y treats
labour as an asset to the business, which automatically gives it value. Employees want to do
well and should be allowed to.

Figure 2: Understand others motivation (Theory X and Y)

Source: Douglas Mcgregor, The Human Side of Enterprise, McGraw-Hill, 1960.

So, if you believe all your staff are Theory X employees, your prophecy will be self-fulfilling. By
treating people as if they don’t care, they won’t. Theory Y is about removing some of the rules
and offering autonomy. Numerous studies have shown a massive improvement in
productivity, once the employee is given more ownership of the problem. This includes giving
machine operatives responsibility for maintenance, giving work groups responsibility for setting
their own targets and production lines the ability to redesign their work methodology. After all,
it is them that know the job best.

McGregor’s theory is again intuitively correct but may be oversimplified. However, beware of
the fact that your attitude to your people can influence their overall motivation and

Challenge, achievement and involvement

Frederick Herzberg wrote a book called The Motivation to Work3 in 1959 with his research
colleagues B Mausner and B Snyderman. He conducted a study and asked a group of
people in a variety of jobs at different levels two questions:

1. What factors lead you to experience extreme dissatisfaction with your job?
2. What factors lead you to experience extreme satisfaction with your job?

The results are shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Determiners of job satisfaction

Source: Frederick Herzberg, The Motivation to Work, Transaction, 1959.

In terms of the dissatisfiers, such as company policy and admin, solving these problems
creates only very short-term satisfaction as the situation becomes accepted as the norm. In
Herzberg’s words “you just remove unhappiness, you don’t make people happy”. Herzberg
called these dissatisfiers “hygiene factors”. If you think back to the diagram of Maslow’s
hierarchy, they match levels 1, 2 and 3. The satisfiers on the right of the chart have little to do
with money and more to do with levels 4 and 5 of Maslow’s hierarchy, those of esteem and
self-actualisation. Herzberg called them the “motivators”. There are things that, as a
manager, you can have an impact on. You have the ability to coach your people, to get
them involved and help them feel satisfaction and achievement in their role.

Herzberg’s ideas are further illustrated by the results of experiments carried out in the 1920’s.
The Hawthorne experiments, as they came to be known, involved adjusting the working
conditions of actual employees to see what effect lighting, rest periods, piecework,
methodology, etc. would have on output.

The study was based at the Hawthorne Works of the Western Electric Company in Chicago
and the results were as follows:

Figure 4: Work conditions and productivity results

Changes in working conditions Results

Day work to piece work Increased output

Five-minute rest periods morning and afternoon Increased output

Rest period increased to ten minutes Greatly increased output

Six five-minute rest periods Output fell: workers explained

that their work rhythm was

Return to two rest periods the first with a free hot meal Increased output

Girls permitted to go home at 4:30 instead of 5:00 pm Increased output

All improvements in working conditions rescinded. Girls See below

returned to 48 hour week with no rest periods, no piece
work and no free meals

What do you think happened in the final box when things were returned to normal? Well, the
output increased to the highest point recorded during the entire period.

There’s one simple message to take away from this. People felt they were being valued by
taking part in the study. There was a lot of interest being shown in their work. They were being
asked how they felt, what they thought and generally being treated like McGregor’s Theory Y
workers. They were allowed to grow into the job and felt that what they were doing was

Look at the section on Practical application for ideas on how to put Herzberg’s ideas into
practice. Have a look at Exercise 4 – Subordinate evaluation to think about enhancing

These are just a few examples of some of the most popular theories. Details of other
approaches can be found in Appendix A.

Applying the theories to today’s world of work

We have outlined just a few of the many theories that attempt to give us more of an
understanding of how to motivate people.

The key messages from these approaches are:

1. Recognise that individual needs are different and may vary with life stages.
2. Your belief in others will affect their motivation and their performance.
3. The organisational climate and environment will have an impact on motivation.
4. The real satisfiers and motivators are concerned with providing challenge,
involvement, growth and ownership.
5. Rewards are important in motivation, but remember to match the reward to the
6. Managers have the ability to reward their people in a number of ways.
7. If people have control and understanding of what is happening they are more likely
to be motivated.
8. Clear objectives lead to motivation and achievement.
9. Feedback can help to motivate people to achieve better results.

However the world of work is very different now than it was in the 1950’s and 60’s when many
of these theories were first developed.

Figure 5 illustrates how the psychological contract has changed in recent years. Job security
no longer exists and people have had to become more individualistic in their approach. This
means that often employees are motivated by the opportunity to build up their expertise so
that they can equip themselves for the uncertainty of the future rather than provide long-term
and unquestioning loyalty.
Figure 5: The change in psychological contract

From the old contract To the new contract

Loyalty to the company Commitment to the current project

Working towards a Golden Individual employee works as if self employed


Large traditional companies offering Companies strive to become employer of choice

automatic promotion

Employment for life Employability

Pay based on seniority/longevity Pay based on contribution

Regular promotion up the functions Variety and challenge across functions

Incentives based on level and status Incentives based on personal reputation and
(larger office/car etc.) expertise, team working and challenging projects

In addition, the changing expectations of people in the workforce influences the way in
which managers can motivate their people.

The concept of Generation X and Generation Y has been used to describe how different
generations have very different values and motivations than the baby boomers that went
before them.

Figure 6: Values and motivators for Generation X and Y

Generation X Generation Y

Born between 1962 and 1977 Born between 1978 and 1994

Achievement oriented entrepreneurs High level of confidence and self esteem

Experienced their parents' redundancies Technologically literate and have different ways
so are less loyal to one organisation of learning and assimilating information

Independent (latch key kids) Need constant stimulation – get bored easily

Realistic – have seen economic downturn High ambitions – expect good salaries and
promotion early on

Performance oriented – are keen to learn Want work/life balance and expect it

Frustrated at organisations and their dead wood

The Generation X people respond to empowerment, they want to achieve but do not have
the organisational loyalty their parents had so are more individualistic in their approach to
work. They are very different from the Generation Y people who have grown up in an era
where they have had lots of activities and opportunities, they have a great deal of
confidence and want to get on quickly (even though they may lack experience). They also
have different attitudes to work and don’t want to work as long and hard as their parents did.
Recognising if your people are Generation X and Y can help in thinking about how to
motivate them and accommodate their needs and values.

Looking into the future we are facing the challenges of an ageing population, where in the
UK many people will be working beyond the traditional retirement age. This again will present
motivational issues in terms of work/life balance, taking on new technologies and keeping
people inspired and interested.

They key message to get from this learning guide is that everyone is different and many work
situations pose different challenges. As a manager you have to work very hard to understand
what makes each person tick. The early theories of motivation were very prescriptive and we
now recognise that there isn’t a one size fits all solution. There are many tools and
approaches, but as a manager you will need to delve deeper and understand the values
and individual motivators of each of your team members. The next sections hopefully give
some help with that.

Ashridge research
Ashridge conducted some research in the year 2000 which took the form of focus groups,
interviews and questionnaires with responses received from 300 managers in the UK and

It was not a large-scale piece of research. However, it is enough to provide some significant
insights into the topic and highlight some areas where organisations can work to enhance the
role of people management and subsequent organisational success

Only a handful of managers, around 1 in 10, were able to say their employer motivated them
really well. A higher number, 18%, were at the other end of the spectrum, saying that their
employer motivated them inadequately. Looking at the extreme ends of the scales helps to
highlight what it is that really helps to motivate others.

Figure 7 reveals the differences between the most motivated and least motivated groups of
managers. For the least motivated, not only is feedback less likely to be given, but also these
people appear to work in an environment where people issues are less valued. For example,
fewer say they receive sufficient training to help them develop people management skills.
Only around a third of the least motivated managers receive such training, whilst this happens
for far more, 7 out of 10, of the most motivated managers.

Figure 7: Least motivated managers

Profiling the least motivated managers

Least motivated Most motivated

managers managers

My boss helps me resolve people management 31 89


My organisation is committed to help managers 31 86

acquire good people skills

My organisation provides sufficient support to help me 31 86

deal with people management issues

My organisation measures/rewards me on people 73 69

management skills

My organisation provides sufficient training to help 29 72

managers develop people management skills

Briefly summarised, the findings reveal a fairly negative situation between the least motivated
managers and their employer. Only around 1 in 3 respondents who identify themselves as the
least motivated are likely to work for an organisation that is committed to help managers
acquire good people skills. Their organisations are also less likely to provide sufficient support
to help managers deal with people management issues or show commitment to help
managers acquire good people management skills.

In contrast 7 out of 10 of the most motivated respondents agree with these three statements.

The consequences are clear. Feedback, appraisals, training, measurements and rewards, the
backbone of good HR practice, need to be in place. However, people management needs
to be supported by two key elements in the organisational culture. These are support from
their manager and team leader and a strong organisational commitment to people

The next section provides some tips and techniques which can be used to improve
motivation in your team.
Practical application – how to motivate your team
Objective setting

While there has been a lot of work on setting goals and objectives, there is one simple model
that suggests that objectives need to be SMART.

S pecific
M easurable
A chievable
R esults oriented
T ime based

Objectives must also be:

ƒ Linked to business priorities

ƒ Linked to results not activities.

When a factory is producing widgets, output can be clearly measured. These hard objectives,
if obeying the SMART rules above can prove very effective. What about the jobs where
output as not as readily measured, eg customer service engineers, IT help desk personnel?
How should they be measured?

It is still possible to set goals and evaluate outcome. What we need to set are soft objectives,
which need more creative development and measures.

It’s important to break down soft objectives into desirable behaviours, so a positive attitude
by the IT help desk employee out on a call may be broken down into:

ƒ Politeness
ƒ Smiling and good eye contact with the customer
ƒ Appearance as defined in the company handbook
ƒ Calm and practical approach
ƒ Good knowledge of the hardware and software being used.

The desired outcome can now be described and, once this vision on requirements is held, it’s
much easier to train new staff and encourage good practice to the individuals involved.

Measuring soft objectives can be done through:

ƒ Questionnaires in the user department
ƒ 360° feedback
ƒ Designing a behavioural competency framework
ƒ Recording complaints and general feedback
ƒ Mystery shoppers.

For more information on objective setting refer to the Performance Management learning


There is a learning guide specifically dealing with Coaching. Many experts in motivation will
say that the manager’s main task is to facilitate the individual’s growth and development. The
main reason people do not perform is because they:

ƒ Don’t know how

ƒ Something keeps them from it
ƒ Don’t want to.

This means that the manager has to become more of a coach in making sure the individual
has the resources to do the job, the skills and ability to do it and feels that they have a
resource available to help them.

Consider the approach you take when you are coaching your people:

We often focus on what’s wrong in a situation with questions like:

ƒ What’s the problem?

ƒ How did we get into this mess?
ƒ Who was responsible?
ƒ What have you done to fix it?
ƒ How long has it been going on?

By focusing on the past and the problem, we automatically get into a negative response or
blame cycle.

Try focusing on the future and the positive side:

ƒ What do you want to happen?

ƒ How can we get there?
ƒ How will we know when we’ve achieved it?
ƒ What resources do you need?
ƒ What else can we improve along the way?
ƒ Have you fixed something like this before?

This approach will lead to a more open discussion and a more positive approach to fixing
things. This is a far more motivational approach.

The G.R.O.W. model4

Figure 8: The Grow Model

The GROW model is a questioning approach building on the Positive Focus approach. The
coach needs to ask questions about:


ƒ Are they clear about what they want to achieve?

ƒ Have they set up and sub-goals along the way?
ƒ Are they SMART goals?


ƒ Where are they right now with the project?

ƒ What is helping or hindering them?
ƒ Can they learn from anyone?

ƒ What options are available?

ƒ Are there other ways to do it?
ƒ Which option is best?


ƒ How much do you want to do this?

ƒ If commitment is low, should you be doing something else?
ƒ What would the consequences be?

The secret of good coaching is to help the individual develop his or her own solutions. They
will have greater ownership and hence greater motivation to take initiative and carry the
project through to completion.


There is a specific learning guide on Feedback Techniques.

Giving feedback5

Feedback is one of the most important elements of motivation, as people want to know how
well they are doing. Feedback is a skill which can be learnt and, if rules are followed, can
prove to be a massive motivational tool to have in your armoury. One way to think about
feedback is in terms of BOOST:

Balance - Include positive elements as well as reflecting on areas for improvement.

Observed - What you have seen them do; focus on behaviour, not personality.

Ownership - Both parties must own the feedback for it to be useful and actionable.

Specific - Try to keep the feedback factual so that it is clear and understandable.

Time - Pick the appropriate time and give it in an atmosphere of trust.

Often, the best start is to ask how people think they are doing. Ironically, one of the great skills
of feedback is listening. People will usually be honest and may be harder on themselves than
you would have been.
Killer questions

Performance management has really had a stormy ride recently. There has been a move to a
new contract between employees and employers where a job for life is rare and each
individual is responsible for their own career, often spanning many organisations. In this
turbulent environment, the predictability of performance management tools has been lost as
goalposts are constantly moving. What should managers now use to find, focus and keep
their employees focused?

Research by Gallup6 identified the 12 most powerful questions that measure the core
elements needed to attract and keep those most talented of employees. Significantly, these
questions also correlated with the most successful organisations in terms of business unit

These questions put great emphasis on the importance of the quality of the conversation
between the manager and team members, especially considering that the Gallup research
showed that “great managers spent on average only one hour per quarter per person
discussing performance.”

By asking the following questions, you will see what barriers to performance may exist and
how you as a manager can work, like a coach, to create an environment for better

1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?

2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for good work?
5. Does my supervisor or someone at work seem to care about me as a person?
6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?
8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel that my work is important?
9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
10. Do I have a best friend at work?
11. In the last six months have I talked with someone about my progress?
12. At work have I had the opportunities to learn and grow?

Refer to Exercise 3 in the development activities section, to identify whether these needs are
being met for you and your team.
Leadership and motivation

'Leadership is achieving results through others.' Unfortunately, this is a little oversimplified.

Overall though, leadership does make a difference to the performance of others and one of
the most important elements of leadership is motivating your staff.

Good leadership can create commitment amongst the followers which leads to them being
inspired, enthusiastic and dedicated to the results. Through this, leadership also builds teams
by generating pride in collective achievements.

Recent Ashridge research showed that 99% of respondents agreed that people
management skills are important qualities of a successful leader.

In addition, with the growth of team formations where teams are geographically dispersed,
the issue of motivation is more important than ever.

Try Exercise 4 – Subordinate evaluation, in the development activities section and think how
your leadership style is helping to motivate your staff. Then have a look at Exercise 5. How
many of the tips are you using in the workplace?

Think about your manager. How is their leadership style motivating you and how could you
influence their style?

If you have time, take a look at the Leadership learning guide to appreciate all the different
theories relevant to leadership and motivation.

Team motivation

In order to keep a team motivated members need:

ƒ an established set of values from which standards of performance and member

behaviour emerge in a consistent way.
ƒ a team leader who will listen to them and be the linkman between them and the
rest of the organisation, clarifying objectives and helping them understand
ƒ a team leader who provides a model in terms of behaviour in managing
relationships and setting the group climate.
ƒ a team leader who makes the most of each of the member's talents, providing
opportunities for development through delegation.
ƒ a team leader who will not overstretch them but knows the existing team
competences and capacity and will seek help through extra resources when
ƒ a team leader who can be tough in critical circumstances but whose approach is
flexible and fits the situation.
ƒ representation from a team leader who will have consideration of the team's
objectives, standards, resources and the importance of maintaining a mutual
respect and collaborative climate between teams and who will protect team
members against unjustified or irrational attack.
ƒ a team leader who provides opportunities for growth and development and who
coaches and counsels them through performance issues.
ƒ feedback about performance, particularly positive feedback and the chance to
celebrate success.
ƒ a leader who is available and makes sure the team members are involved in
decision making and are encouraged to give upward feedback.